Directed by: Juan Antonio Bayona
Before we begin talking about this true-life film, we would like to relate the (also true) story of a family that we knew that relocated to the U.S. from Israel at the opening of the millennium. They did so because they felt it had just grown too dangerous in Israel, and they felt that they would be safer her in America. They moved into Lower Conn. With the husband taking a job down at the southern tip of Manhattan in the World Trade Towers. On September 11, 2001 he (for some reason) was late getting into work, and was spared the terror attack that destroyed the Twin Towers. The couple subsequently determined that the U.S. wasn’t safe either and relocated to India, where they were on Sunday, 26 December 2004. Apparently they used to go to the beach every day. On that particular the oldest daughter apparently had a fit claiming that she hated the beach, and didn’t want to go, so the family complied and they did something else that day. That was the day of the Tsunami.
Real life is far stranger than any fiction you can possibly imagine.
This film chronicles the true harrowing story of María Belón (Watts), her husband Enrique (McGregor), and their three children who were on an idyllic Christmas holiday at a tropical paradise resort in Thailand. Their on the morning of December 26, 2004 their vacation is traumatically interrupted, when a devastating tsunami hits the coast all but completely destroying the coastal zone. While the individual members of the family miraculously survive the disaster, they are separated from one another and begin a desperate search to reunite.
Maria and her oldest son Lucas (Holland) wind up together while her husband Enrique manages to hang onto the two younger boys Thomas (Joslin) and Simon (Pendergast). The film starts out with the family arriving in Thailand, checking into the hotel, and enjoying Christmas morning. Then, the next day, the world all but came to an end. Even seeing videos of the actual event played out on TV and online could not prepare you for the horror of the event as it played out on the screen. (The London Daily Mail reported that British survivors of the tsunami were “horrified,” “ambushed,” and reduced to tears by the film’s trailer, which screened in cinemas prior to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.)
The film is both epic in scope and intimate in delivery in that it shows both the monumental fury of nature as well as the selflessness of strangers. Watching the film viewers can’t but help to feel the abject helplessness and stark terror of the situation. Flood waters rushing at them, debris everywhere, the dead, the lost, the confusion and well…it truly is a film that needs to be experienced to comprehend some of the enormity of the situation in which they found themselves, and even against insurmountable odds they managed to cling to life, survive, and move forward.
Watts, McGregor, Holland, and all the rest of the cast performed admirably under what had to be an extremely difficult film shoot. (Check here for a revealing behind the scenes look at how the film was made.) witnessing the devastation re-created on screen, as well as experiencing the heartbreak and loss of the people who actually went through this horror is moving on so many levels. While watching this film (or the also true story that preceded the review) one comes away with the feeling that somehow, surprisingly, real life manages to be far more unbelievable than any fiction you could possibly spin. This is a powerful film that deserves to be seen.
Robert J. Sodaro has been reviewing films for some 30 years. During that time, his movie reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web.